Shal’s Elemental Current

Shaun Daniel Allen

Australian artist Shaun Daniel Allen (Shal) puts his hands in the Earth.

Shaun Daniel Allen, known as Shal, is a Yugambeh-born, Bundjalung musician, tattooer and artist. His texture-rich style initially began as a form of meditation through expressive line work. During a significantly challenging time, Shal found solace in his artistic practice and in connection with community; two integral elements that continually inform his artworks and practice. 

Photo by Sophie Hargreaves

“I make intentional marks with feeling, using techniques that I am continually changing and developing through discussions and observations,” say Shal. Inspired by the DIY approach integral to the punk/hardcore scene he’s part of since he was a teen, Shal gravitates toward spaces in art-making that share a similar ethos of no limitations, in which he feels free to create. 

His recent installation, a bold, fluid mural, resides on the walls of Ace Sydney’s day-to-night cafe Good Chemistry, and is on view now through the end of the year. Shal recently had a chat with us on textures of home as process, surfing, music and more. 

Photo courtesy of China Heights

Your creative output has taken many forms — music, tattooing and painting. Is there a specific throughline that you can identify in each expression?

Each specifically or all together? Overall, especially in the last five or so years, it would feel as though identity has played a big part of all that I’m doing. The search to find exactly who I am and where I’ve come from. Those things that have made me me. 

Painting and music are very, self-indulgent maybe. Very much making things exactly how I want to be making them for myself. Tattooing, I’m just trying to give my client a good tattoo, to the best of my ability. More so a trade at times, which is something I really love about it. Both have so many different elements that make them unique, but at the same time, I’m giving a lot of myself to whatever is in front of me.

Are there specific relationships with elders you’ve developed that have been particularly impactful?

More so relationships with community and peers than one specific person. Everyone has something to give if you are open, receptive and have the time to build relationships. I’ve also learnt a lot from those brief, passing conversations with other mob [a community group of Indigenous Australians with shared ties to a particular place]. in a number of different settings all over. If someone wants to share, I try to take it all in. Finding where I fit in, and knowing other people are in the exact same positions has been the most impactful part of it all.

Photo by Sophie Hargreaves

Is preserving or imparting traditional practices and culture an element of what you consider when you approach your work?

I would consider my work to be more contemporary than traditional. I’m lucky enough to be around a lot of people who do use traditional practices as their voice. I’m very mindful and considerate when it comes to what and how I paint.

What do you listen to when you paint? Is it different when you tattoo? 

It’s always so varied. Tattooing usually includes a whole shop of people, and most shops I’ve worked at are pretty democratic when it comes to who chooses the music. It’s also a really great way to learn how much music can affect mood, ha! Otherwise in the studio, I’m jumping all over the place. I usually get really into a specific era, of a specific genre for like a week, and go down rabbit holes.

Shal was gracious enough to share a studio playlist with us — get in the zone here.

Photo courtesy of China Heights

It feels like elements of nature have been particularly inspiring, both with water and now working directly with elements of the land, like ochre. Is there a difference you feel when working with that materiality vs. something more traditional like paint?

Absolutely different feelings! Using ochre and feeling the textures of home. Having it all over my hands. Thinking about time on country collecting. These things put me somewhere else when I sit down to start making. It’s definitely not like running down the road to buy an infinite supply of any colour imaginable. I think ochre makes me slow down and feel deeper. 

As an avid surfer, are there elements of that practice that have an impact on the work you make?

All of those years in the water, and the travels in search of waves. The people I’ve met. Being in the water at all different times, in different places. All of these things have influenced my work so much.

For your mural in Good Chemistry, was there any unique approach that you took when concepting it given that it would be an onsite installation? What informed the work itself  creatively?

I spent some time in the space prior to coming in to paint. I actually photographed a lot of the plants in the space as colour reference, and I was drawn to a few other details that I was hoping to compliment. I usually start a painting being open to the work itself informing me where it is headed. So after looking at my very loose sketch of the initial lines, and then getting them on the wall, I slowed down, and took my time to look and listen. It also gave me more time to enjoy to space which was a definite positive. 

Always ways, Always will be. 


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